A Free Boat

Phishie, my 8-foot Walker Bay Rowboat



            “How would you like a free boat?” an unfamiliar voice on the phone queried.  What did he mean, a free boat?  I wondered what the person who had verbally stumbled through my last name was peddling. 

            “You won the rowing dinghy in our drawing!”  Right, I thought, the last time I “won” something, it involved a photo contest and I hadn’t actually won anything, but I was a semi-finalist.  My photo was going to be published, however, in a lovely book that I could purchase for $69.95, and for just $25 more…

            “Howard, are you still there?”  My mind returned to the phone conversation, and I finally remembered entering a contest by filling out a survey and sending it to Northwest Yachting a few months earlier.  Wow!  I really had won a free boat.  We arranged the details of delivery, and I checked the dimensions of the Walker Bay 8 rowing dinghy in a West Marine catalog that I had lying around.  It would just fit into the Ford van that we had used to tow our 26-foot Bayliner from Wyoming to Washington 10 years earlier.  The dinghy was located only a couple miles from the University of Washington, where our daughter goes to school, so we could pick it up during one of our visits.  I assured my wife, Fairy, that we wouldn’t have to spend a dime on this boat—except for oars. 

            After we picked up the dinghy and drooled our thanks to the donors, we stopped at Doc Freeman’s and bought some oars and a set of those rubber thingies that protect the oars from excessive wear in the oarlocks. Our free boat cost less than $50 to outfit since the life jackets were “essentially free.”  We had a nice blue one at home that Fairy could wear and my Ugly One that had been banned from our other boat.  It was brown and faded, the general color of what my wife thought it looked like, but I had picked it out myself years earlier and it was still my favorite. 

            About a week later I decided to go rowing since the November temperatures still hovered a little above freezing.  My wife declined an invitation to go along for the same reason.  After a two hour outing on the Yakima River delta, I decided that a GPS would be nice to track time and distance traveled, and to help estimate the speed of the current.  The GPS also was essentially free since it was a portable that we had bought for the Bayliner the previous spring.  The plastic Zip-lock bag that I put it in to keep it dry cost a few cents, but in the boating budget that came under the “negligible” category.  Fairy, of course, wondered why I really needed the GPS in a rowboat.  For the time being I was content that I had everything that I could possibly need on the boat. 

            After a couple of more outings on the Yakima, however, I realized that some signal flares would be a good idea in case I swamped the boat or got into some other trouble in the cold water.  When a tug and barge passed me on the Snake River, I decided that I also needed some sort of signaling horn.  A week before Christmas, we were back in Seattle, so we stopped at West Marine and picked up some suitable flares, an Admiral Hornblower signal horn, a proper mount for the GPS (for the Bayliner of course), and a waterproof bag to stow it all in.  After that visit to a marine store, I quit counting how much money I was spending on my latest toy, since no money spent on a boat should ever be considered an “expense.” 

            On the way home, I tried to figure out how to operate the horn I had just purchased.  Finally, after reading the instructions I learned how it would have worked if I hadn’t ruptured the diaphragm while fiddling with it earlier.  Fairy, who was driving, noticed my lower lip sticking out and couldn’t resist taunting, “Broke your horn, didn’t you?”  A couple of days later, I figured out how to replace the broken diaphragm with a piece of plastic wrap from a new Christmas CD.  The horn worked so well that I was immediately banished to the garage. 

             With the horn fixed, I donned the Ugly One, stowed the rest of the safety gear neatly in the waterproof container and set out to row across the Columbia near its confluence with the Yakima River.  I drifted about half a mile downstream during the crossing, but in the eddies near shore I could go pretty much where I wanted.  While rowing upstream back to the point of origin of the trip, I began thinking about the recent full moon and how I could light the boat so I could take it out in the moonlight.  I could make a mast out of plastic pipe that would fit nicely through the hole in the front seat of the boat.  With portable sidelights and an all-around light I would be both legal and visible to other boaters.  In the daytime, I could fly our Princess Louisa burgee for added visibility.  It would even be possible to mount a radar reflector and a camera on the mast—the possibilities were endless! 

            I thought sure that I had discussed my plans with Fairy, but even if I hadn’t, I was certain that she would be proud of my latest idea.  When we were checking out of the local hardware store with six feet of plastic pipe and associated fittings I learned otherwise.  “You’re going to do WHAT with that STUPID PIPE?!?”   The discussion continued in the parking lot, and she suggested a different sort of jacket to replace the Ugly One.  That jacket would have made it hard to row, however, and would not have provided any buoyancy.  When we got home I lowered the rowboat from the garage ceiling, where it resides when not on the water or in the van, and showed her how well the mast fit.  She didn’t say a whole lot, but I knew that she would like it when I painted it to match the rest of the boat—at very little extra cost, of course. 

            Sometime after I removed the mast, Fairy agreed that it was a cute little boat and that she would like to go out in it, but not in the dark, not until the weather was warmer and preferably with an engine attached. I hesitated about the engine at first, for although we had an essentially-free, two-horsepower Johnson, we would have to register the boat and pay a license fee to be legal.  The more I thought about it, however, the less it mattered.  We had our free boat, and the additional dollars we spent on it were just an investment in fun.  After all, isn’t that what boating is all about? 

© Eskildoodle 2021